How Technology Can Be Used to Help
Children Learn Languages

The rapid advancement of technology in the last two decades has given us all the power to connect. In this new global community, the internet allows users to engage, communicate and collaborate, regardless of geographical boundaries, for any number of activities; whether it’s for work, pleasure, or indeed education. 

For students, in this age of super-connectivity, where talking to a peer in another continent is as simple as swiping a finger, the educational and social incentive to learn a second language has perhaps never been so compelling — and technology itself certainly has its part to play in developing young minds and their ability to excel in language studies.

children learning about climate change in classroom with laptops

The benefits of learning
a foreign language

Research has historically championed the advantages of children learning a second language at a young age, helped undoubtedly by their ability to absorb new information like a sponge. Indeed, at a cognitive level, children learning an additional language are generally more creative, better at problem-solving and, statistically, stand a better chance of achieving academic success. 

Crucially, students in the UK have not been slow to capitalise on the widespread benefits of foreign language education. Data from last year’s GCSE enrolment showed that modern foreign languages have been steadily growing in popularity; with a 5.1% increase in GCSE entries in 2023 compared to 2022, and a significant 9.2% increase compared to 2019.

At the time, former Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, was suitably encouraged by the upturn in foreign language engagement in UK schools: 

“Young people who are confident in a second language are at a huge advantage in life. On top of the social and cultural advantages it provides, there are many economic benefits of learning another language.”

technology and the environment

The power of technology
and languages

Using a range of digital education tools, modern technology has made it much easier for children to learn a new language. Gone are the days when a French or German lesson would consist of reading and repeating phrases from a dusty textbook. Now students can utilise interactive language apps, such as Duolingo and Babbel, that combine visual and auditory stimuli and reward-based interaction to help improve vocabulary, grammar, and the subtle nuances of their chosen language. Importantly, interactive language apps are designed to be fun, which can be an undervalued advantage—and, the more students engage with them, either at school or at home, the more effective these tools become. 

As well as language apps, there’s an endless bank of online video resources that children can access. Studies have shown that children are better able to pick up a new language through immersive learning environments; either through studying abroad or watching and listening to real people talk in their native tongue. Since the former option might prove inhibitively expensive, the ability to absorb interactions in a foreign language at the click of a button is hugely valuable. There also exists a wide range of online language resources that contain vast banks of audio recordings that can help children improve their pronunciation and vocabulary.

Gamification of language learning

Perhaps the most famous illustration of gamification being used as a means to teach foreign languages was the public release of Duolingo in the summer of 2012. This free or subscription-based interactive platform aimed to combine simple achievement/reward game mechanics with traditional language exercises. Users could unlock new levels, compete with friends and family, and receive rewards; all the while enhancing their feeling of achievement and learning progression. 

In the wake of Duolingo’s success and its subsequent introduction into schools in 2016, a multitude of language learning platforms followed. Digital tools that looked to use similar gamification strategies to engage its users — from embarking on immersive narratives to completing virtual quests; all the while rooted in conventional language models. Meanwhile, the emergence of virtual and augmented reality technology has further pushed the envelope when it comes to interactive learning. With these state-of-the-art tools, users can now engage in simulated environments and practise real-life language scenarios. 

students learning about wind energy through technology

How can technology tools help language
teachers and students?

Technology should always be used as a tool to help educators; not replace them. For language teachers, digital tools can revolutionise both student engagement and, on a more practical level, lesson planning and the use of classroom resources.   Using cloud technology, language teachers can create and maintain an organised online repository of lesson materials. In the evermore challenging quest to protect teachers’ time and alleviate workloads, this can be hugely valuable. Resources can be readily accessible at any time, from any location; easily shareable amongst students and colleagues through learning management systems, and reminders for due dates set up in calendars. Technology can streamline the process of managing student learning materials, while grading can be simplified through automated marking, with language educators able to provide instant insights into student performance, making the administrative features of teaching less burdensome.

Technology has been proven to play a significant role in student engagement and catering to various learning styles — and this is particularly relevant in language classes where the range of capabilities among students is so diverse. During listening exercises, for instance, students can adjust audio playback speeds or magnify on-screen text, to personalise their learning experience. These technological interventions can make lessons more interactive and ensure that learning is adaptable to each student's unique requirements.

In a wider sense, integrating technology into language classes can open a gateway to a richer, more diverse educational model. Digital tools enable students to enhance the experience of learning a new language by exploring its culture, interacting authentically with native speakers, and connecting with other learners across the world. This immersive process, made possible with digital tools, can help bring students a step closer to language mastery.

A technology-led approach also lends itself to more flexible teaching models. Students can customise their learning experience with the use of online tools and cloud technology; choosing when, where, and how to engage with the language. 

How can Computeam help?

It’s impossible to argue against technology’s transformative effect on the classroom since the turn of the millennium, and there are few examples more compelling than its positive influence on children learning a new language. 

It’s important to remember, however, that technology should always be a facilitator in the educational process, not a means to an end. Foreign language learning experiences, whether delivered through digital platforms or traditional classroom environments, work best when they’re designed by educators and centred around the learners themselves. Digital tools are there to nurture language proficiency through interactive and intellectually stimulating materials. If you’d like to find out more about how technology can help in the language classroom, please get in touch.

girl using a laptop in the classroom

Technology and Children’s
Mental Health

In education, the seismic impact of the pandemic, combined with pressurised testing and grade attainment has increased anxiety levels for students, while the influence of social media often only goes to heighten the malaise. Never has it been more important to create a safe environment for children and improve learning outcomes for those with mental and behavioural health conditions.

Learn more >

Posted on January 29th 2024

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